BY DIANA PICHARDO
Six stories of struggle, triumph and courage were delivered at the campus of Monmouth University, West Long Branch, Sept. 19, each told through the eyes of different fictional female characters defining what it truly means to be Latina in modern society.
The university hosted a version of the award-winning Off Broadway play “Yo Soy Latina!” by Latina businesswoman and artist Linda Nieves-Powell.
“Yo Soy Latina!” won the 2005 Imagen Award.
Nieves is the founder and president of Latino Flavored Productions Inc., a multimedia entertainment production company.
The event was sponsored by the university’s Hispanic Heritage Committee as part of Hispanic Heri-tage Month.
The Hispanic Heritage Committee has been in existence for 16 years, said Raymond Rodriguez, director of affirmative action, who sits on the committee as well as on the Monmouth County Human Relations Commis-sion.
“The whole play is focused on identity issues in general, which is an issue with young people,” said Kathy Stein, of the university’s Affirmative Action Office.
More specifically, the play centers on the question of what it means to be Latina in contemporary American society by outlining and showcasing six unique but common stories of Latina women.
Among them was the story of Alicia Blanca, a young Colombian actress who has to make great efforts to get Hispanic roles due to her fair complexion. Another story involved a young girl, Maria Elena, with dark complexion, who struggles to find celebrity role models. Referring to a television set, she said, “That little box in my living room told me I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t normal.”
The issue of interracial marriage is also covered through the character Migdalia, a “Nuyurican,” who deals with the prejudice she faces from her family as a result of her relationship with an African-American man.
Various themes and stereotypical images throughout Hispanic culture were included; for example, the exaggerated method of speech and makeup stereotyped for Latina women.
At one point during the performance the characters jointly address these issues, highlighting the fact that television should offer Hispanics “a chance to feel good about themselves,” and that for the most part “there is no ‘Brady Bunch’ experience for Latinos.”
The play delivers a message of unity and acceptance, and stresses the need for everyone to be who they feel they are, said Lina Sarrapochiello, the actress who narrated.
“Finding [yourself] is the most important struggle,” she said
Being Latino or Latina includes being part of a rich vibrant culture with various traditions. But it also includes a personal challenge to break stereotypes and defeat certain expectations on a daily basis, as illustrated by the performance.
Following the performance, there was a brief question-and-answer period.
Francisca Ortiz-Smith, a Puerto Rican woman living in Ocean Township, said she could relate to the characters and specific issues featured.
“I thought it was great,” she said. “They hit every subject we have to deal with especially as Latinas.”
The message of the play not only resonated with the audience, but with the actresses as well.
“I love doing this,” said Antonia Marrero, the actress who portrays Migdallia. “I’ve been dealing with this my whole life.”
Heather Kelly, assistant director of student activities at the university and member of the Hispanic Heritage Committee, took away her own message from the performance.
“We’re all different,” she said, “but it’s our differences that make us whole.”